dollars and cents

Principals are cutting positions, but no word yet on how many

A week after principals were required to submit their budgets for next year, the city still doesn’t have an answer to the question of how many teachers are losing their positions because of budget cuts.

That question is essential for the counterintuitive reason that positions cut at schools actually don’t save the system any money. If a principal can’t pay for a teacher, the teacher goes into a pool of “excessed” teachers whose salaries are paid by the department. That pool already contains more than 1,700 people and has been criticized as a burden on the city’s budget. If the size of the pool swells because of the budget cuts, the department could end up shouldering thousands of teachers’ salaries — all while the teachers aren’t officially on a school’s staff.

Department of Education staff are still crunching the budget numbers, officials say. The department’s chief operating officer, Photeine Anagnastopoulos, told me on Tuesday that the excess situation was shaping up to be “not as bad” as she and others had anticipated, particularly considering that principals haven’t yet launched the bulk of their hiring for the fall.

But a source familiar with the budget process says the numbers have been delayed because the department is “scrambling” to check principals’ math about whether they need to cut positions. Staff at the department’s service centers are “going over budgets in high-excess schools trying to negotiate fewer excesses,” the source said.

An added complication, the source said, is that a reorganization within the department means that the service centers are short-staffed right now.

The teachers union is also reviewing cuts that union representatives at each school flag as being unnecessary, vice president Michael Mulgrew told me. “They’re reviewing every school and we’ve been investigating and will continue to monitor very closely,” he said.

Whatever number of excessed teachers is announced in the coming days, it is certain to decrease over the summer, Anagnastopoulos said. “The hiring hasn’t started yet, only the excessing,” she said. Hiring restrictions currently in place mean that principals will have to turn to the pool of excessed teachers first when filling most open positions.

“Right now I’m pretty confident that we’ll be able to manage it,” she said. 

Principals are reporting having to excess large numbers of teachers because of the budget cuts, according to GothamSchools’ interactive budget map and other sources. In addition to the teachers whose jobs are budget cut casualties, some teachers are winding up in the pool because the department is closing or phasing out their schools. At PS 27 in Brooklyn, which is shedding 10 grades, 72 teachers are slated to join the excess pool, for example.

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”